Defined design processes improve consistency, quality, and efficiency. However, rigidly adhering to design processes makes it difficult to scale across scope and quality. What’s the happy medium? Pragmatic Design.
What is Pragmatic Design?
Design must inherently consider a wide array of external factors, such as time and cost to implement, the sometimes conflicting desires of stakeholders and users, and the scope and scale of the project. The same design process that works well for one project may be ill-suited for another. Failing to account for this up-front leads to wasted effort, ballooning budgets, and missed opportunities.
A pragmatic approach to design is one that crafts a project-specific approach based on a clear-eyed look at desired outcomes, budget and timeline limitations, and the resources at hand. It intentionally weighs design against other project areas and compromises on design to facilitate overall project goals rather than striving for an ideal design at the cost of other areas. It’s scalable and flexible, with sometimes drastically different design processes and timelines for different projects. It approaches all aspects of design with a critical eye toward maximizing value.
What does that look like in practice?
Focus on Outcomes
A focus on (and understanding of) the results the project intends to achieve is the foundation of a pragmatic approach. What will make this project successful? What’s needed to deliver that? What tools and techniques will best support efficiently and effectively delivering that result? Most designers have stories lamenting a lot of work put into artifacts that ended up ignored. Prioritizing for value and crafting a project-specific process will mean some projects don’t use those well-worn tools we’re most comfortable with and instead call for ones we’re less well-versed in.
Part of a focus on outcomes also means approaching a project with a cohesive, holistic view that’s wider than just design. How does design fit into the project alongside everyone else? What design processes will most help the rest of the team as they push towards the same desired outcomes?
Design often needs to scale to different budgets and timelines. Rigidly-defined, step-by-step design processes typically struggle with scaling up or down from the scale of the project they were originally created for.
For product designers, working in product strategy and roadmapping means both give and take on scope—both tailoring the approach to fit a defined timeline and helping to define appropriate timelines and budgets based on the project goals.
Regardless of whether they are involved in determining the project scope, pragmatic designers are always aware of their timelines and milestones, structuring their activities to deliver the best value for project goals. Sometimes, this will mean challenging the status quo, particularly if they’ve been assigned a specific process and deliverables of questionable value, rather than given desired outcomes with the latitude to determine the best path to get there.
Understanding the need and limitations of everyone else on your project allows the pragmatic designer to adapt to meet those needs. Designers should work closely with developers to understand when a design will change their implementation effort and how that will impact project timelines and budgets.
Development teams can also suggest ways that designs can adapt to simplify development—those compromises can then be weighed against a designer’s other design priorities. This should never be an adversarial process; designers should expect some compromises throughout a project and intentionally seek them out so they’re well-informed when prioritizing to achieve the best project outcomes.
One implication of flexibility with a team-wide view and a focus on overall project outcomes is that sometimes, design should be scaled down so that other disciplines can be scaled up. On a small scale, this means the compromises every designer is familiar with, like avoiding a solution that’s complex to implement to save development time. On a larger scale, it can mean things like planning for less overall design time to allow room in the budget for dedicated QA testers. This can be a foreign concept for designers who often need to struggle to get sufficient design involvement on projects. Still, it is an inherent consideration with a project-wide approach to maximizing value.
A pragmatic designer considers designing an appropriate process to be part of every project. That doesn’t mean starting from scratch on every project. A well-developed toolkit is critical, allowing adaptability without rigidity. It’s vital for designers to understand when each tool provides the best value and when other tools are a better fit.
This isn’t to critique standardized design processes either, only that they can’t be expected to work the same between all projects. An existing ‘default’ design process might be a starting point for a more pragmatic approach. Structured design processes are created because they add value—understanding that value is the first step in “knowing the rules before you break them.”
It’s easy to fall into patterns of what has worked in the past, the way things have always been done, or to have defined steps in a process that’s there to ensure a robust and complete end result. Those aren’t bad things unless they also stop us from learning, trying new things, and having the flexibility to adapt to different situations. Actively considering what will be truly useful for an individual project and designing a process that best meets the project’s needs might mean pushing into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Embrace that feeling!
Pragmatic design is a project-specific approach to design that balances desired outcomes, budget and timeline limitations, and available resources. With an emphasis on value and flexibility, pragmatic design considers the impact of design on the entire project, including other disciplines like development.
Adopting a pragmatic design approach leads to a more efficient and effective use of resources, a clearer focus on desired outcomes, and the ability to adapt and scale the design process to meet the specific needs and limitations of each project.
By considering design as part of a larger, project-wide approach to maximizing value, you can ensure your design efforts are aligned with overall project goals and contribute to the overall success of the project.
Not sure where to start?
We’re here for you! Bitovi has expert product design consultants who are eager to help you implement pragmatic design. Schedule a free consultation to discuss training and design consulting services.
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